How Florida Keys Tourism Has Been Faring Since Irma

Empress of the Seas docking in Key West, making it the first cruise ship to call at the destination following Hurricane Irma
The first cruise ship returned to Key West on September 24. // Photo by Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO

The Florida Keys have been open to tourists following damage the destination sustained during Hurricane Irma since October 1, and since then the area has been continuing to recover. The Florida Keys tourism industry has released its latest update on infrastructure, hotels and more.

General Assessment

Key Largo and Key West were least impacted by Hurricane Irma, as were hotels and businesses on the bayside or gulfside in Islamorada and Marathon. On the Atlantic Ocean side of Islamorada and Marathon, a number of hotels had significant storm surge impacts. Some properties’ recovery periods will likely continue through summer 2018. The most severely impacted area of the Keys was the region from west of the Seven Mile Bridge to about Big Coppitt Key, which is about 10 miles east-northeast of Key West. Visitors are requested to avoid traveling through residential neighborhoods along the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, especially between Marathon and Key West, as this region will take the longest to recover. In the meantime, the Keys have been open to visitors since October 1. Most tourism infrastructure is largely restored.

Infrastructure

Transportation

The Florida Keys Overseas Highway, including its 42 bridges, were deemed safe for vehicular traffic within five days after Hurricane Irma struck the Keys on September 10. Debris that lined the shoulders of the highway is being picked up. The highway through Islamorada and Key West is cleared of storm debris. Florida Keys Marathon and Key West International Airports reopened for commercial and general aviation on September 20. The first cruise ship returned to the Port of Key West on September 24.

Utilities

Keys Energy and Florida Keys Electric Cooperative restored power to almost 100 percent of their customers who could accept it by September 29. Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority restored water to all customers who could accept it. Boil water orders for all Keys customers were discontinued October 1. Most AT&T and Comcast communications service is restored throughout the Keys.

Lodging

The Florida Keys tourism council reports nearly 75 percent of lodging units are back online in the destination, with about 76 percent in Key Largo, 32 percent in Islamorada, 56 percent in Marathon, 45 percent between the west end of the Seven Mile Bridge and Stock Island and more than 90 percent in Key West and neighboring Stock Island.

Key Largo

In Key Largo, the famed Jules’ Undersea Lodge, the United States’ only submerged recreational hotel, with two bedrooms and a bathroom, reopened to overnight divers December 1. Two all-new properties in Key Largo are opening. Dolphin Point Villas, with six stand-alone villa homes accommodating up to 62 guests and events of up to 100, held a grand opening December 9. The new Bungalows Key Largo, the Keys’ first all-inclusive resort, is expected in spring 2018 with 135 units, two pools and several restaurants and bars. Neither project’s construction was significantly impacted by Irma. Ocean Pointe Suites is scheduled to reopen in March. The Hilton Key Largo, undergoing renovation to become the 200-room Baker’s Cay Resort, a Curio Collection by Hilton property, is to reopen in the fall.

Islamorada

Islamorada Resort Co.’s Amara Cay Resort reopened December 15. Sister property Pelican Cove Resort is to reopen in mid-January. Of the two other Islamorada Resort Co. properties, La Siesta Resort & Marina is to open in winter 2018 and Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina is targeting a phased reopening beginning in spring 2018. The Moorings is set to reopen January 15. Cheeca Lodge Resort & Spa is to reopen in the spring. Islander Resort is closed until fall, although Islander’s Bayside Townhomes are open.

Marathon

On Duck Key, Hawks Cay Resort & Marina is to reopen in stages beginning the second quarter of 2018. Other major hotels in Marathon are open and a new Hampton Inn Marathon is planned.

Lower Keys

Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge is open. Deer Run Bed & Breakfast is closed. Off Little Torch Key, Little Palm Island is to remain closed until January 2019.

Key West

In Key West, as noted, most available lodging rooms are open. The new 14-room Marquesa 4-1-4 opened October 20 as part of an expansion at the 27-room Marquesa Hotel. The 262-room Southernmost Beach Resort had 85 rooms under renovation after Irma, and is to fully reopen all its rooms December 18. Parrot Key Resort is closed until June 1, 2018. The Inn at Key West and Key West Bayside Inn & Suites are closed until summer 2018.

Attractions

All major Keys attractions have reopened. In Islamorada, Theater of the Sea is open, although its shark and sting ray exhibit and beach areas remain under restoration. In Marathon, Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, with new feedings for Mobula rays, reopened December 15. Most fishing and dive charters have resumed operation.

Restaurants and Bars

All major Keys restaurants and bars have reopened, although a few may have limited menus. No Name Pub on Big Pine Key reopened in late October.

Florida State Parks

All 10 Keys state parks are open for day use as restoration efforts continue. In Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first undersea park in the United States, is open to beachgoers, overnight campers, hikers and snorkelers taking a glass-bottom boat. Trips on a larger glass-bottom boat and dive excursions are expected to resume by Christmas. Food concessions are scheduled to reopen by late January. In the Lower Keys, Bahia Honda State Park’s Calusa Beach area, on the park’s northwest side, is open for day use. Loggerhead and Sandspur beaches are closed for restoration. Overnight camping in the park and stays in its six cabins are scheduled to resume in January.

National Parks, Refuges

Dry Tortugas National Park is open, with the Yankee Freedom III ferry service resuming operations as well as Key West Seaplane Adventures air service. Portions of Everglades National Park are open.

Four national wildlife refuges also are open, including the National Key Deer Refuge, Great White Heron and Key West national wildlife refuges. Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Key Largo is accessible, as usual, only through organized volunteer activities and guided walks.

Campgrounds

Many Keys campgrounds have reopened for recreational vehicles. Of the Keys’ significant RV resorts, Fiesta Key in the Upper Keys has reopened though it is not operating with full services. Sunshine Key in the Lower Keys is targeting reopening in late winter 2018. Sugarloaf KOA / Key West KOA is closed through October 2018. Other Keys campgrounds, including Boyd’s Key West Campground, are open.

Special Events

Traditional holiday season events, including boat parades around the Keys, the Key West Holiday Fest, Islamorada’s Florida Keys Holiday Festival and Key West’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, are taking place as scheduled.

The 2018 Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament is scheduled January 26-28 and is to be staged out of Islamorada’s Whale Harbor Marina. The 2018 Conch Scramble Par-Tee on the Water is rescheduled for January 19-20 in Islamorada. A few events — including Brew on the Bay and Taste Around the World in Key Largo — are cancelled for 2018.

Shortly after Hurricane Irma struck the Keys, major special events in October — including the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo, Stone Crab Eating Contest in Marathon, Key West’s Fantasy Fest and the Key West World Championship Offshore Powerboat Races — were held as scheduled.

Visit fla-keys.com

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